Proverbs 18:21 tells us, "Death
and Life are in the power of the tongue and they that love it will eat its fruit." A
person can substantially make or break his/her destiny by the way one uses his/her tongue.
A tongue can be used for kindness, healing, comfort, mitzvos, building. Or, Heaven forbid,
it can be one of the most evil, reckless and destructive things in existence. A mouth can
hurt more than any hand or sword. The Chofetz Chayim, in his monumental work on lashon
hora (evil speech), shows how evil speech can violate as many as 31 Torah sins and bring
four Torah curses!
The capacity to properly use the faculty of speech differentiates the human being from
the animal and elevates him above the animal. After G-d created all the rest of the living
species, G-d imbued the human, and only the human, with the ability to speak (Targum
Onkelos to Genesis 2:7). Through constructively using speech, man can rise to his unique
purpose and potential.
The Vilna Gaon (Alim LeTrufa) writes that the punishment for sinful speech is worse
than the punishment for all other sins, including for murder, adultery and idolatry - the
three most serious! An evil mouth is worse than the worst! One must refrain at all times
from any evil speech such as ridiculing, giving a curse, falsity, arguing, gossip,
slander, anything that harms anyone, or making oaths or vows. Silence is like medicine for
sinful speech. There is unimaginable pain for even one evil word. Every word one says is
recorded in Heaven. Not one word is lost. Even Torah and good deeds cannot offset the
damage done by evil speech. One must constantly control one's mouth and one's desires. The
main skill that a person should develop in life is the ability to be silent. One's faculty
of speech should be cultivated exclusively for speech pertaining to Torah, justice and
goodness. Whenever one speaks, one should exclusively speak pleasantly and peacefully, in
a friendly and loving manner. It is imperative to always be humble and gentle.
Since evil speech is common and comes quickly and thoughtlessly, many communities have
various forms of study groups that deal in the numerous laws of "lashon hora (evil
speech)" and in personal growth in speech-related behavior. Join or start a study
and/or support group which meets regularly. It will be a valuable and eye-opening
undertaking. The most frequently used text for study of evil and destructive speech laws
is the Chofetz Chayim's monumental work on the subject.
The Talmud (Pesachim 113a) puts it succinctly, when it says regarding negative speech,
"Do not deal in words." Treat hurtful, argumentative, slanderous, critical,
insulting, nasty, embarrassing or otherwise sinful or destructive speech like a criminal
or perverse profession that you wouldn't have anything to do with. The Talmud (Kesobos 5b)
says that if you hear an improper thing, put your fingers or earlobes into your ears to
block it out.
Remember always that Heaven treats each person "mida kinnegged mida (measure for
measure - Sota 8b)." The way you behave to others is the way Heaven behaves to you.
The way you judge people is the way Heaven judges you. It is advisable to always treat and
judge all Jews favorably.
Four Hundred barrels of Rabbi Huna's wine turned sour. The rabbis told him to examine
his actions. It turned out that he did not pay some of his workers. When he did tshuva
(repaired the debt) he made money from his business which equalled his former loss
(Brachos 5b). If people think into misfortune, hardship or suffering, they can oftentimes
discern that they did (or caused) to another person something which has a parallel to what
happened to them. Mr. A withheld pay from creditors or workers; or Mr. A said something
about B that cost B his job and livelihood. Mr. A's business has subsequently fallen on
hard times. Mr. C said something slanderous publicly that broke people's confidence in D,
humiliated D in front of other people and non-halachically (against Torah law) harmed D's
career, reputation or shidduch. Mr. C has subsequently become the object of a disgracing
public scandal. Mrs. E does a sin in private. Providence causes witness to see her,
leading to public knowledge and legal adjudication of her action (Sota 8b).
Since speech is less tangible than action, it is possible to lose sight of its power.
Nevertheless, the tongue has the power of life and death, happiness or misery, building or
destroying. You must always be careful with your speech as well as your actions.
There are many, many forms of communication (e.g. gestures, tones, insinuations, word
choices, hints, facial expressions, motions, etc.). Torah law governs them all. Violations
that are "normally" achieved through speech (e.g. loshon hora, insulting,
humiliating, hurting feelings, etc.) are violated even without literal speech. Just
because one evaded actual speech, one does not escape culpability or punishment. Remember,
the damage is still done. One who causes any damage is always accountable. Since not only
talking "speaks," all forms of communication - explicit and subtle - must be
approached cautiously and wisely. This is on top of the more obvious forms of punishable
speech such as lying, anything which is harmful, a breach of privacy or confidence,
nastiness, ridiculing, etc. In marriage, you are obligated to be particularly kind and
thoughtful about speech - to AND about family members - at all times.